Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Russian spy ring 

The eleventh arrest has been made in a round-up of Russian spies operating under non-official cover.

I applaud the FBI for its diligence during what was apparently an investigation lasting seven years. We don't yet know the extent of the damage that these agents caused, and whether the national security of the U.S. was seriously compromised.

I assume that no arrests would have been made at this moment without Director of the FBI Mueller and AG Eric Holder signing off on it. That tends to undercut the theory promoted by Moscow that elements within the U.S. who are hostile to President Obama's agenda of warmer relations toward Russia are behind the arrests.

So, I guess we're going to need a bigger "Reset Button."

But seriously, what was the Russian rationale for leaving these agents in place? What could they find out surreptitiously (and at relatively great expense) that could not be discovered in our open society by getting a job as an editor or reporter at the New York Times, or Googling to your heart's content? It sounds as though it might be kind of a cush job:
Oleg Gordievsky, a former deputy head of the KGB in London who defected in 1985, said Russia probably has about 50 deep-cover couples spying inside the United States...

The ex-KGB officer said deep-cover spies often fail to deliver better intelligence than their colleagues who work in the open.

"They are supposed to be the vanguard of Russian intelligence," Gordievsky said. "But what they are really doing is nothing, they just sit at home in Britain, France and the U.S."
Well, there is a great selection of vodka available in most U.S. liquor stores.

If the focus was industrial espionage, that would make the point of the exercise more understandable to me, from an economic perspective. From press accounts thus far, that doesn't seem to be the primary reason these agents were in place.
In spring 2009, court documents say, conspirators Richard and Cynthia Murphy, who lived in New Jersey, were asked for information about Obama's impending trip to Russia that summer, the U.S. negotiating position on the START arms reduction treaty, Afghanistan and the approach Washington would take in dealing with Iran's suspect nuclear program. They also were asked to send background on U.S. officials traveling with Obama or involved in foreign policy, the documents say.

"Try to outline their views and most important Obama's goals (sic) which he expects to achieve during summit in July and how does his team plan to do it (arguments, provisions, means of persuasion to 'lure' (Russia) into cooperation in US interests," Moscow asked, according to the documents.

Moscow wanted reports that "should reflect approaches and ideas of" four unnamed sub-Cabinet U.S. foreign policy officials, they say.
Well, OK, try and gather intel on aides so that you know what they know, and perhaps if they can be blackmailed. But if these agents can figure out "Afghanistan and the approach Washington would take in dealing with Iran's suspect nuclear program," heck, most U.S. citizens would pay them to share and publish that information.

I don't mean to mock or minimize the value of "HUMINT" as it relates to policy positions, but are NOCs the best way of getting that information in the U.S. in 2010?

Oh, and by the way (as long as the subject is Russian spies), is there anyone out there who still thinks Julius Rosenberg was innocent? Now there is a spy who was part of a ring that did enormous damage.


By Blogger Ray, at Tue Jun 29, 05:16:00 PM:

I think this relates more to the culture and delusions of the KGB than any serious damage to national security. There's a bizarre mystique in the KGB for non-official cover, dating back to the "Great Illegals" of the post-WWII era.

This sort of elaborate double-life and infiltration scheme has some sort of bizarre appeal for them, and the KGB has never given it up.

For all their spycraft prowess, people like Gordievsky have commented that the best analysis they ever sent back to Moscow Center was cribbed straight from the op-ed pages of the Washington Post.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Tue Jun 29, 05:24:00 PM:

TH- you forgot to ask about Ethel.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Tue Jun 29, 05:34:00 PM:

Brian - It's an Escort81 post, so don't blame TH for the oversight.

Yes, Ethel is now generally acknowledged to not have been an active member of the spy ring, though it would seem reasonable that she was at least somewhat aware of what her husband and his colleagues were doing. Assuming that she was not an active spy, Ethel should not have been executed; this was apparently J. Edgar Hoover's position at the time, we now know.  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Tue Jun 29, 06:39:00 PM:

E-81, your thoughts echo mine. It leads me to wonder if there was more going on here than meets the eye?  

By Blogger MTF, at Tue Jun 29, 06:41:00 PM:

Who cares about Ethel Rosenberg when you have Anna Chapman to consider. The quality of Russian spies has improved.  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Wed Jun 30, 10:41:00 AM:

My guess is that this is a Cold War project which was kept going to preserve the budget of some KGB department. If you cancel a project, your budget goes down, and so does your status.

Next step, merger of the Moles division with some other division. Wouldn't want that, would they?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jun 30, 10:53:00 AM:

It is hard to believe that Holder ever does anything pro-American. The timing of the news about deep cover Russian spies doesn't seem to make sense except in one context; the Russians have more than one campaign against us, the other(s) being more expensive/successful than the deep cover attack.
Remember, Obama's only objective is to destroy the middle class in America. He would not alienate the Russians but, with the deep cover capture, simply telling them that his job is not yet completed.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Wed Jun 30, 02:45:00 PM:

I'd expect that about 5% of our foreign-based state department staff are spooks of one sort or another and are doing similar stuff without the deep cover of being suburbanites in Montclair NJ. Great work if you can it. Am I wrong?

So after we had an investigation going for seven years we bring charges now -- for not registering as a foreign agents? So instead of just continuing to monitor, we tip our hand?

Cui bono?

Axelrod just had Holder deliver another story to manage the MSM Spin Cycle. It's not like Holder hasn't played ball before. I'd bet Holder always has something in the queue.

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean I'm wrong.  

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